Underdog Days: Partying with Sonia Chang-Diaz

The Boston political universe has a brand new slogan: The cutest candidate with the shortest rap sheet always (or at least sometimes) wins. And you think you’re surprised.

Despite some optimistic status assessments in the past few weeks, Sonia Chang-Diaz supporters didn’t show at last night’s post-primary jam arrogantly riddled. After polls closed at 8pm, most volunteers at the Alchemist Lounge in Jamaica Plain clutched wine glasses and looked the other way like inexperienced bowlers who can’t face their gutter balls.

Two hours later their candidate would be crowned queen of the Second Suffolk Senate District. But it would be a long night before they realized that she knocked the incumbent unconscious.

Despite Chang-Diaz earning endorsements from the Globe, Herald, El Mundo, Bay Windows and the South End News, few major newsmakers believed that she would win. The Globe had an intern on the case, and the Phoenix sent a guy who’s only been on staff for two days. The first news truck – from NECN – didn’t pull up until 10pm, at least a half-hour after everyone essentially knew that Dianne Wilkerson lost.

At first there were far more local reporters than there were heads to interview. This was exciting for my friend, who ran around giving nonsense quotes (“I voted for Sonia because she represents change,” I overheard her tell one reporter). This, by the way, is a lesson in how useless man-on-the-street interrogations truly are. It’s a good thing that all reporters but me avoided the free pizza though; that would have truly compromised their coverage.

Emotions rumble when underdogs prevail. After restraining cheers for nearly an hour after rumors of victory surfaced, the first sign of outright celebration honked by in a beat up compact car with a Chang-Diaz sign on the door. The candidate walked in the Alchemist minutes later; by this time there were three news vans out front, not to mention NPR correspondent Bianca Vazquez Toness performing her notorious nudge to the front. 

The Chang-Diaz entrance was relatively epic, as people hugged with little regard for any drinks they spilled on one another. “I stand before you honored to the core,” the winner said, struggling to out-smile her tears. Chang-Diaz then thanked the gamut of her supporters – a list that seemingly included everyone but Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick – and even had sweet words for Wilkerson, though her closing promise will likely be interpreted as a slap: “No matter what – I hope to always be a senator who keeps her standards high.”

Some might think a name like Chang-Diaz would attract significant minority support. And while enough voters in Mission Hill, The South End and Chinatown clearly picked her at the polls, those who came to celebrate were predominately young gays, thirty-something professionals, and mature hipsters. Upon looking at my outfit, one dude who fit into either one or both of those first two categories commented that “Sonia must have the b-boy demographic as well;” he might have a point, but I’d say it was more likely the entitled progressive vote that pushed her over the top.

Though it’s the most generic acceptance speech line in the political playbook, Chang-Diaz got it right: “There is a lot of work to do.” Many Wilkerson supporters remained faithful no matter how openly she disgraced her constituency, and those people will be difficult to woo. Either that or they’ll stop caring now that the primary, and essentially the election, is over.

On my way out I saw an older gay couple walking toward the Alchemist with no clue about the rally. One saw the campaign signs and commotion and, realizing that Chang-Diaz won, expressed his disapproval: “Disgusting,” he said. Without hesitation they entered the bar anyway. Interpret that however you like. 

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